Monday, December 13, 2004


Waiting on a train

Jerry Murad and the Harmonicats, Peg O' My Heart.

Many songs seem fabricated--you can find the stitchwork on them; others seem as though they had been netted, entirely whole, out of the air. "Peg O' My Heart" is the latter. It's a simple, shuffling melody that lingers in the head, a melody that, upon first hearing, seems as though you have already heard it before, years ago, somewhere else.

The above photograph was taken by Ruth Orkin of a mother and daugher in the old Penn Station in 1947. You can imagine "Peg" somewhere beyond the margins of the photo--carried on a radio at a shoeshine stand, whistled by a man hustling to catch the 5:18.

"Peg"was a colossal #1 pop hit. Jerry Murad, an Armenian born in Constantinople, spurned his family's carpet business to form a harmonica trio in 1944. Murad, recalling the sound effects of suspense radio shows, thought of using an echo chamber to enhance his group's sound. Engineer Bill Putnam, intrigued by the idea, miked the harmonica trio in the marble-tiled bathroom of the Chicago Opera House. In its quiet way, "Peg" is an early exercise in sound distortion. More on Putnam, one of the forefathers of reverb.

You can buy "Peg" here.

Bonus reading: The National Security Act of 1947. While it may feel as though the Department of Defense, the National Security Council and the CIA have always been with us, they are relative latecomers. Here is their birth certificate.

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